Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Lockwood’s fight with cancer comes to an end

If you look at the Florida Gators player roster or ledger of support staff, you will not find the name Ian Lockwood. Check the history books and box scores and you will come up empty. But in head coach Urban Meyer and senior safety Ahmad Black’s final season with the team, Lockwood stood as an inspirational figure who the Gators rallied behind.

With the season now over, the 2011 Outback Bowl game ball (the one Black intercepted to seal the game) in his possession and cancer haven taking over his body, Lockwood passed away Friday evening at the all too young age of 18.

A patient at Shands Hospital in Gainesville FL, Lockwood was receiving treatments for brain cancer and underwent a second procedure shortly before the Outback Bowl. He was a passionate high school football player who had to stop playing suddenly on Oct. 8 due to an aggressive brain cancer that doctors tried to thwart and Lockwood himself attempted to fight to the best of his ability.

That fight ended Friday, a day his family, friends and extended University of Florida family prayed would never come. Survived by his mother, father and sister, Lockwood spent the last few months of his life cheering on Florida and hoping the team would find success in what was otherwise a down season.

“The young man, his love and passion for football is second-to-none,” Meyer said during his Outback Bowl press conference. “We became very good friends. He had football taken away from him. He’s been with our team a bunch; we spent a lot of time together.”

Black, who befriended Lockwood while visiting Shands, immediately became enthralled with his fight and passion and was touched by his perseverance. “I love the fight he has. A lot of people would have given up, but he’s still fighting,” Black told the Pensacola News Journal earlier this week.

“RIP Ian Lockwood. He was a great brother, friend and son,” Black wrote via his Twitter account Friday evening. “I’ll forever miss u bro and I thank god that u impacted my life.”

Lockwood, given a chance to speak when he was handed the game ball, was thankful for the honor and support that Florida showed him in his time of greatest need.

“This means a lot to me. Coming into Shands for treatments, [they were] always there from the beginning,” he said. “Football is definitely life to me. It is good to always have an organization there for you to support you whenever you need it.”

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Lockwood family.

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FOUR BITS: Quinn, Black, Strong, Rosario

1 » Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has mostly been out on the road recruiting since the Seattle Seahawks were eliminated from the NFL Playoffs, has been assigned the Jacksonville, FL area as his primary recruiting grounds, according to The Florida Times-Union. The Times-Union’s Hays Carlyon reports that Quinn visited a number of area high schools on Friday and notes that Florida could be interested in two Yulee High School players over the next two seasons – tight end/linebacker Kelvin Rainey in 2012 and running back Derrick Henry in 2013.

2 » When former Gators safety Ahmad Black presented the game ball from the 2011 Outback Bowl to Ian Lockwood, it was obvious the two (and then-head coach Urban Meyer) had formed a special bond. In Mobile, AL for the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl, Black spoke with the Pensacola News Journal about his friendship with Lockwood and how the two became so close so quickly. “He opened the door to the Florida football program,” said Lockwood’s high school football coach Chad Lashley. “That has meant the world to Ian. It just shows the unbelievable character of Ahmad and his concern for other people. With him getting that interception, it was just the perfect ending.” You can read more thoughts from Black and Lashley by clicking here.

3 » Taking the Louisville Cardinals to a 7-6 record and earning Big East Co-Coach of the Year honors in 2010, head coach Charlie Strong appears to be in line for a new contract with a substantial raise, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, which spoke with athletic director Tom Jurich. “We want to do [give him a raise], but this staff has been busy and they’re doing a great job, so when signing day is over and we get some time, we’re definitely going to address that,” Jurich said. “It’s been great that he’s been able to keep his staff together to this point, and I can tell you those guys are really getting after it and they’re having a great time. They’re on a rocket ship right now, and it’s fun to watch.” Louisville doing what it can to keep Strong now may prevent him leaving until a significantly better job is available a few years down the road. He currently earns $1.6 million per season.

4 » Redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario is biding his time helping Florida improve during practice while he waits out a NCAA-mandated transfer season. An article written for CNN profiling Rosario’s hall of fame high school head coach Bob Hurley, Sr. notes that the player once the star of one of Hurley’s teams and describes him as a “hot-tempered kid who used basketball as a refuge from the life in a housing project.” Rosario recounted his time playing for Hurley. “He started disciplining me like I was one of his sons,” he said. “It was to the point where I was like, ‘Wow, I had never been pushed like this in my life.’ I learned how to be a man and not a boy.”

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Meyer, Black present game ball to Ian Lockwood

Before former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer began his final press conference and after senior safety Ahmad Black received the 2011 Outback Bowl MVP award, Meyer made a special point to present a game ball to Ian Lockwood.

Look at Florida’s player roster or ledger of support staff and Lockwood’s name will not be found, but he played an important role in bringing the team together with a common goal in mind: send Meyer and the seniors out on a positive note and give Ian something to smile about during a trying time in his life.

A patient at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL, Lockwood is receiving treatments for brain cancer and recently underwent his second procedure. He was a successful high school football player who had to stop playing on Oct. 8 due to an aggressive brain cancer that doctors are trying to thwart and prevent from spreading further.

Meyer had this to say upon introducing Lockwood:

“One of my dear friends, Ian Lockwood, about a year and a half ago I met Ian. The young man, his love and passion for football is second-to-none,” he said. “We became very good friends. He had football taken away from him. He’s been with our team a bunch; we spent a lot of time together. I asked these guys to do whatever we possibly could do to get a game ball to Ian Lockwood. And that meant you had to go four quarters as hard as you possibly can and find a way to bring that ball and brighten someone’s day.”

The ball Lockwood received? None other than the one Black picked off and returned 80 yards for a touchdown that sealed the game.

“I met Ian around the same time coach did,” Black said, “so he means just as much to me as he do to coach. It was our goal and objective to win the game for Ian. So thank you, I appreciate you.”

Stepping up to the microphone, Lockwood was visibly nervous but seemed to know exactly what to say, just like he did to the Gators before they took the field.

“This means a lot to me. Coming into Shands for treatments, [they were] always there from the beginning,” he said. “Football is definitely life to me. It is good to always have an organization there for you to support you whenever you need it. My team back at home, I played six games my senior season and came up short after another brain surgery. Finished the other six out with these guys. So it was pretty good. Thanks Ahmad. Thanks Coach.”

Turning around to give both men hugs, Lockwood’s embrace with Meyer lasted just a bit longer and ended with a whispered “I love you” from the future Hall of Fame head coach to the former high school football player.

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